If A Drunk Driver Hit My Parked Car Can I Sue?

Written by John D. Hawkins on . Posted in .

Drunk drivers are a danger to everyone, including themselves. They cause over 300 fatalities a year in South Carolina alone. If a drunk driver hits your car while it is parked, it is possible that they did not even register that the collision happened. They might have just kept driving, leaving you to discover the damage when you wake up the next morning. You have the right to compensation in this kind of scenario, but the process can be challenging. The car accident attorneys at HawkLaw P.A. want to help you sue the drunk driver who hit your parked car. You deserve compensation for an accident that could have been avoided had the driver of the other vehicle been sober.

What to Do If Your Parked Car is Hit in South Carolina?

No matter where you park your car, there will always be a chance that someone will hit it with their vehicle. An accident could occur on the street, in a parking lot, or even in your own driveway.

Ideally, someone who hits your parked vehicle will leave a note with their contact information. This would allow you to get their phone number and insurance information so you can make a claim for damages. If the accident was a hit-and-run, though, you may have to get the police involved. 

As soon as you discover that somebody has hit your car, you should take the following steps:

Call the Police

A police officer can inspect the scene of the accident and prepare an official accident report. When you make an insurance claim, the insurance company will want to see the police report, so this is an important step.

Document the Accident

If possible, take pictures of the scene. Try to document as much of the area around your vehicle and the damages to your vehicle as you can. If you suffered injuries because of the accident, such as if you were sitting in your parked car when the accident occurred, try to take pictures of your injuries as well. Write down as much as you can remember about the accident, including information about the vehicle that hit your car.

Exchange Information

If the driver who hit your parked car fulfills their legal duty under South Carolina law to stop and render aid, be sure to exchange insurance and contact information with them. You can make a claim on your own insurance policy if necessary, but it would be better to submit a claim to the driver’s insurance company.

Find Witnesses

Try to get contact information from anyone who witnessed the auto accident. You may need to get their testimony for an insurance claim or lawsuit.

Notify Insurance

You must notify your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible, especially if you will need to make a claim on your own uninsured motorist coverage. If the crash was a hit-and-run and you or the police are able to locate the driver who hit your car, your insurance company will reimburse any deductible that you had to pay to repair the damage to your vehicle.

What Happens If the Driver Flees the Scene?

If a hit-and-run drunk driving accident damages your parked car, you can recover compensation from your own insurance company even if you cannot identify or locate the driver who caused the damage. This might not be as satisfying as holding somebody accountable, but at least you can get damages.

The police can conduct an investigation and see if any witnesses or cameras saw the accident occur. Leaving the scene of an accident is a violation of South Carolina law. It is a misdemeanor if the accident caused personal injury, and a felony if it caused severe injuries or death. If property damage was the only result, it might not be a criminal offense. The police take DUI very seriously in any event, though, so they will investigate the matter.

Can I Sue a Drunk Driver for Hitting My Car in South Carolina?

In most cases, you can sue a drunk driver for the damage they caused to your car. Car accident lawsuits are usually based on the legal theory of negligence, which holds people liable when they meet all four of the following requirements:

  1. They owed a duty of care to you, such as a driver’s duty to obey traffic laws and drive safely.
  2. They breached that duty. A drunk driver, for example, breaches multiple duties of care expected of someone behind the wheel of a car.
  3. This breach caused your injuries or damages. The driver’s intoxicated state might have caused them to take their attention off the road when they hit your vehicle.
  4. You suffered actual damages. This can include property damage to your vehicle, bodily injury, and other losses.

State law typically presumes that a person who causes an accident while committing DUI has acted negligently.

Before you decide to file a lawsuit, however, you need to consider whether you might bear any fault for the accident. South Carolina uses a system called “modified comparative negligence” to determine how much damages an injured person should receive in a personal injury case. You can still recover damages from an at-fault driver if you were partially also at fault for the accident, as long as your share of the fault was less than 50%. A jury usually determines each party’s share of fault.

If you were partly at fault, the jury would reduce your damage award by your percentage of fault. Suppose that you have $50,000 in damages, but the jury determines that you are 20% at fault for the accident. The jury would reduce your damage award by 20% to $40,000.

How can a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit be partly at fault for an accident? In the case of an accident involving a parked vehicle, the location and manner in which you parked could be factors. If you parked your car in a designated space in a parking lot, you probably would not share any of the fault with a driver who hit your vehicle. If, on the other hand, you parked somewhere that is not a parking space at all, you could be partly at fault. An extreme example might be if you stopped your car in the middle of the road where a driver would not have enough time to avoid hitting it.

What Damages Can You Recover After Being Hit by a Drunk Driver in South Carolina?

South Carolina law allows personal injury victims to recover up to three types of damages in claims and lawsuits.

Economic Damages

Economic damages compensate you for actual losses that you suffered as a result of another driver’s negligence. This may include medical bills, lost wages, and the cost of repairing or replacing damaged property.

Non-Economic Damages

Some damages that you may suffer as a result of a car accident are not as easy to measure. Non-economic damages compensate you for the negative impact that an accident has had on your life. One type of non-economic damage, pain and suffering, covers physical and emotional pain that results from auto accident injuries.

Punitive Damages

The two types of damages described above are collectively known as “compensatory damages,” because they both seek to compensate you for losses you have suffered. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish a driver for particularly egregious breaches of their duty of care. Punitive damages are not available unless a driver showed “conscious disregard for the safety of others.”

Is There Victim Restitution in South Carolina If a Drunk Driver is Convicted?

Drunk driving accidents combine two distinct areas of law. DUI is a criminal offense under South Carolina law. Claims for personal injuries or property damage are civil in nature. A DUI conviction may include an order to pay restitution to you. Even if the drunk driver who damaged your vehicle does not face criminal consequences, though, you can still recover compensatory and punitive damages from them.

A personal injury lawsuit has an easier burden of proof than a criminal case. While a prosecutor has to prove a criminal defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” you only have to prove the driver’s negligence by a “preponderance of the evidence.” A “preponderance of evidence” essentially means that more evidence supports your claim than refutes it. You can establish civil liability for a drunk driving accident even if the state was not able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A drunk driving accident is a good candidate for punitive damages, given that DUI is a serious breach of the trust placed in drivers in South Carolina. A judge will consider factors like the driver’s level of intoxication and history of drunk driving incidents. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you make a claim for punitive damages in this kind of situation.

Why Should I Hire a Lawyer If a Drunk Driver Hit My Car?

The process of recovering damages for personal injury or property damage can be complicated. Asserting a claim for punitive damages can be particularly challenging since it requires evidence that a defendant was aware of a substantial risk of serious injury but acted anyway. A personal injury lawyer can advise you of your rights, help you gather evidence in support of your claims, and prepare a claim that establishes all of the necessary legal and factual elements.

Hold Drunk Drivers Accountable for Their Actions

If you have experienced property damage or personal injury because of a drunk driver, you need to act quickly to preserve your right to compensation. The personal injury lawyers at HawkLaw are available to help. Please call 888-HAWKLAW or complete the online contact form to request a free* consultation today.

 

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Written By John D. Hawkins


John David Hawkins is the Founder and Owner of HawkLaw. He has been licensed to practice law in South Carolina since his graduation in 1994 from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Focusing on litigation, Mr. Hawkins is experienced handling Worker’s Compensation, Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Administrative Law, and Criminal Law matters.

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